Gullfoss, meaning "golden waterfall," is a massive waterfall on the river Hvita in western Iceland. The falls are considered one of Iceland's most treasured natural wonders, with a name inspired by the phenomenon when glacial sediment in the water turns the falls golden in the sunlight.
Gullfoss' water plunges 105 feet (32 meters) in two steps over a deep, dramatic crevasse in the river valley. As you approach, it's possible to hear the falls before you see the wild, tumbling water, and upon arrival, you can stand at an overlook at the top or walk down the path to the edge of the falls. The site is most often visited on full-day tours from Reykjavik and is almost always included on various Golden Circle route tours. On any popular Golden Circle tour from the city, you're likely to also stop at highlights such as the Kerid volcanic crater, the famous Geysir geothermal area, the Strokkur geyser, and Thingvellir National Park. Some tours also include a stop at the Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon, or other hot springs in southwest Iceland.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Be sure to wear sturdy shoes if you'd like to climb the steps running parallel to Gullfoss.
- Bring a waterproof jacket, as the curtain of mist thrown up by the falls is significant.
- You'll find a gift shop and cafe near the wooden boardwalk leading to the waterfall.
- Take a Golden Circle express tour to see all the main sights in a short period of time.
How to Get There
The Gullfoss waterfall is 75 miles (120 km) east of the capital city of Reykjavik. It's possible to drive independently; the Golden Circle route does not require a 4x4 vehicle. This easy, popular day trip is often experienced as an introduction to Iceland's natural wonders.
When to Get There
On sunny days, the mist from the falls creates rainbows that make for spectacular photos. Visit in winter to see the falls sparkle with ice.
Discovering an Icelandic Legend
In the first half of the 20th century, the then-owners of the waterfall and surrounding land leased the site to foreign investors who were keen to build a hydroelectric plant. Legend has it that local Sigridur Tomasdottir loved Gullfoss so much that she walked to Reykjavik barefoot in protest of the plant, thus making her point heard and stopping the construction. She is credited with saving the falls, and you can find a memorial stone placed in her honor at Gullfoss. She and her sisters built the first set of steps to give visitors access to the falls.